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I.O.U.

I.O.U.

by Marco M. Pardi

Think what you do when you run in Debt; You give to another Power over your Liberty.” Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) “The Way to Wealth”. 1757

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

In the interest of transparency I will say I came from a family which did not incur debt, for anything. We wanted a house, we bought it. We wanted a car, we bought it. We wanted an education, we either bought it or won highly competitive full academic scholarships. Loans were viewed as shameful.

What I now view as shameful, however, is a society which calls itself democratic and innovative yet fails to invest in the human resources which make democratic choices and devise beneficial innovations. I am referring particularly to the national scandal of Student Debt.

As regular readers of my column know, for over 22 years – 7 of which tenured – I taught full or part time in Ivy League universities, community colleges, public and private colleges and universities. To this day I am in contact with former students, from even the earliest years. I am quite aware of the seemingly endless debt some have incurred.

In fact, I was aware of that debt even in my earliest teaching years. Having no control over tuition and fees, I did in several cases have some control over textbook selection. Occasionally, there were issues beside cost. For one subject I could find no suitable textbooks so I wrote and published two of my own. Much to my surprise I found out the 10% of the wholesale I received as author and/or editor was eclipsed by the 20% of retail – after mark-up – collected by the college bookstore.

I also heard many students object to the price of books. So, since I knew my subjects inside and out I decided to try teaching without textbooks. That worked for a relative few, but the majority voted for having some kind of book to reference. Okay. I suggested they get used recent edition books, from other students and not from the bookstore. In the years since the internet I suggested on line resources for used books (of recent edition) and made sure everyone had received a book before launching into materials for which they may need resource back-up. That helped somewhat. But that applied only to my courses in a large institution; I do not know how far word of mouth carried to other instructors to inspire them to do the same. But still, outrageous as book costs were, they were minor in comparison to tuition and fees. I fact, a college education has long been known as the most expensive thing you will buy that comes with no warranty; there is no guarantee you will become employed at a level which allows you to pay off the cost of acquisition.

The problem of student debt does not occur in a vacuum. Many students enter college with only vague or uninformed notions of what they want to major in and what that degree will afford them. Part time jobs during high school do not usually illuminate a career path. And, increasingly, success in high school does not reliably predict success in college, or in the world of full time employment. Even the highest Grade Point Average tells me only that the person is smart; it does not tell me whether the person is intelligent. Succeeding in high school is like mastering the game of Ping Pong; the instructor serves, the student returns. The intelligent student, assuming he does not get distracted or even jaded, understands the cultural event of the game in a holistic fashion even if he does miss a shot or two – or more. But our system does not reward intelligence as it does smartness. We overwhelmingly send the smart ones to college, not realizing they will often not be ready upon graduation for exposure to a multidimensional workplace. I gave up counting the number of times I optimistically strayed while teaching a college class into what I felt was intelligent territory only to hear students ask, “Will this be on the test?” I mockingly repeated to myself the Pharaoh’s line from The Ten Commandments: “So it is said, so shall it be written!”

One of the causes gaining traction today is Free College Education. European colleges are often referenced. Indeed, at this writing there are 44 tuition free universities, many quite excellent, throughout Europe. But many, if not most, have stiff entry requirements calculated to appraise the intelligence, not just the smartness, of prospective students. Secondary school students are evaluated either steered toward university or toward technical/trade schools. Some universities not only waive all costs, they also pay a stipend. My sister (now deceased) got her B.F.A at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland at no cost. She was then awarded a State Scholarship by the Moscow State University (“Russia’s Harvard”) where she earned her M.F.A., with a small apartment and allowance paid for by the Soviet Union. It also happens here. My brother earned his B.S. Degree at the United States Military Academy at West Point with free tuition, room and board, and a monthly salary. His four years there applied toward his military retirement though after completing his contractual service he could have resigned his commission at any time.

So what can we do in our school system, especially as it relates to the crippling costs? First, I wish to clear a common misconception: College instructors do not all make the salaries the public imagines. By leaving my 10 year faculty career and accepting an offer for full time federal employment I multiplied my salary several times over. Second, there are areas in federal spending which can be trimmed. For example, The United States spends more on “defense” than the next ten countries combined. Yet, we are seeing that well educated computer experts can do far more damage far more easily and quickly and for far less cost than a multi-million dollar F-35 fighter aircraft. Why are we doing this? The United States is also the leading supplier of arms to the world. Taxpayer money is used to pay private companies for the research, development and acquisition of ever newer weapons so the previous generation of weapons can be sold off to the highest bidder, or the regime of our choice. The private companies then funnel a portion of their earnings into the “dark money” which finances the political campaigns of the Party which awarded them the contract to begin with thus assuring their win of the next contract. Billions could be re-directed into education.

Regarding the college cost question, I would recommend options from the following:

I would like to see a mandatory post-secondary year of service with an option for two or more years. This could be served in any of several federal programs, but States would be encouraged to form their own counterparts. Exceptions could be made on a case by case basis but the importance of this option is that it affords the new high school graduate with exposure to the real career world in a setting which provides time to assess these careers and to assess in what direction the participant really wants to go – traditional college major or technical/vocational school.

The Obama administration was in the process of regulating costly for-profit colleges and “universities”, especially the outright phony examples such as “Trump University”. Unfortunately, the seizure of the government by “Republicans” ended this effort. Yet, any casual observer can see from the advertising that these businesses are designed to appeal to and attract low income minorities. The result, favored by Republicans, is a relatively low-skilled, debt trapped workforce having to accept any kind of working conditions for fear of becoming unable to service their student loans. This dovetails nicely into the Republican drive to de-regulate businesses and suspend or abolish workplace safety standards deemed costly by employers. Businesses, of course, funnel part of their subsequent profits into the Dark Money which ensures the re-election of those who conspired to bring about these conditions. For profit technical schools and “colleges” must be regulated under strict standards or put out of business.

During my federal service I met with the Vice President for Education of one of the largest and most well known corporations in America. He cited many examples of his company’s efforts to re-train, even to completely pay for a full college education, employees who, having been hired on the basis of their “graduation” from these degree mills found themselves utterly unable to do the work for which they were hired. He cited several class action suits being prepared by employees against these mills. Yet, Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, has blocked any means of financial restitution for these now employment-disabled workers. These “colleges and universities” must meet accreditation standards or cease operation.

The first two years, or the period necessary to acquire professional certification through an accredited technical/vocational school should be tuition free for students who have passed adequate and proper admissions testing. Community colleges were among the post-secondary institutions at which I have taught. These colleges typically offer a two track program: the Associate of Arts for students intending to transfer to a four year school; and, the Associate of Science for students seeking professional certification in an occupation. Remarkably, a common denominator among these schools is the shockingly great disparity between those students who declare intent to continue to a four year degree and those students who actually do. Given that the Associate of Arts is functionally meaningless in most career tracks, money that would have been expended in tuition and fees remission for the A.A. should be held in escrow conditional upon the completion of a four year degree. The money would then be paid directly to the school.

The money earmarked for tuition and fees remission for the Junior and Senior years of a four year program should also be held in escrow and released upon completion of the degree. Again, the money would then be paid to the school.

Those students experiencing financial hardship or inability to pay will be examined for their ability to complete a program and, if satisfactory, awarded tuition and fee remission contingent upon yearly submission of copies of tax returns and upon submission of semester grades. Students dropping out of programs will be offered a hearing to explain why. Those students presenting proof of acceptable reasons, such as a health crisis for themselves or close family, will be exempted from repayment of tuition and fees. Those failing to provide adequate reasons will receive a judgment against them requiring full repayment of tuition and fees up to their point of departure. Falsification of reasons will result in criminal charges for fraud.

Under the current administration the taxpayers have seen hundreds of billions of tax breaks go to corporations, including of course the Trump conglomerate, and to the very ultra wealthiest of individuals, including friends and family of the “President”. To offset this loss of tax income this government has canceled to 2.1% yearly raise for federal workers and the locality adjustment supplement. It is also devising ways to drastically cut MediCare and MediCaid and funding for dozens of programs and agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education, and the State Department. We can easily afford to roll back these egregious thefts of public money, especially when we come to understand that money is not wealth. Sitting alone on an island with trunks stuffed with money will teach that lesson quickly enough. Wealth lies in human potential, not in pieces of paper. Our country is squandering its wealth in the quest for a fantasy.

These are just a few ideas. I do not doubt there are other possibilities I have not included. I initiated this blog in hopes of interaction with readers. Hopefully, among the many readers in so many countries around the world there will be those who will participate in this discussion.

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Futurism

Futurism

by Marco M. Pardi

The future is like a corridor into which we can see only by the light coming from behind.” Edward Weyer, Jr. 1959

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

Recently Kathy, one of our new readers, asked my impressions of a PEW projection of changing demographics. I should first make clear that in all my years as an Anthropologist I was always informed that Anthropologists are not Futurists; we do not formally speculate on the outcomes or further developments of that which we study. Of course, there are some who say Anthropologists are among the best qualified to project future trends, whether in human evolution, languages, or the myriad of social issues. We also have, and continue to play critical roles in the Intelligence Community. Although, here too the Anthropologist must limit himself to immediacies: Supply this warlord and x, y, and z are highly likely; destabilize that leader and an armed insurgency likely follows, supported by A, B. or C in descending order of probability. Target culture most likely will accept messages in XYZ form. And so on.

So, I respond to questions of futurism in a few fundamental ways: I am old enough to remember a long train of “informed” predictions, most of which did not come true; I read medical opinion (written before my time) that Man could not exceed 35 mph on a vehicle without his body flying apart. As a child in the early 1950’s I went to Dearborn Michigan and viewed the elaborate models of “Futurama”, depicting flying cars as common place by the 1980’s. The 1960’s, for much of which I was out of the country or otherwise occupied, brought some changes “no one saw coming”. But actually, it’s hard to imagine that anyone who lived through the ultra repressive Puritanism of the 1950’s could not see “The Sexual Revolution” coming. Or the Civil Rights upheaval. Or the civil disobedience of many Vietnam war protesters. Or the explosion of recreational drugs. And more. Of course, some of the futurist projections still being made in this era were ridiculous on their face – to anyone who understood physical evolution and the confounding effect of human culture. There is no evidence we are moving toward larger brains and smaller bodies; quite the opposite, if anything. And, physical evolution being measured in generations, we are unlikely to notice significant changes beyond minute incremental changes in the frequencies of certain conditions.

Yes, as the study Kathy referenced pointed out, demographics do change over time. But the methods of calculating demographics must be examined carefully; “appearances can be deceiving”. I remember in the early 1970’s claims that the (then called) Black population in the U.S. had only about 20% of its population which could claim “no White blood”. In this century easily obtainable genetic testing is surprising a number of Whites with previously unknown Black contributions to their genetic make-up. Yet, we do not seem to be moving toward a “light tan” population as predicted. The question arises: What makes a Black a Black, and a White a White? Or any other category, for that matter. Is it a percentage of one’s genes? A percentage of one’s experience, as in how and by whom one was raised? Where one has lived?

One of my temporary duties at a U.S. Government agency was serving on the Diversity committee. Along with counterparts from other agencies I met with the Secretary of Health & Human Services to identify and define these issues. I pointed out that I had lived approximately two years in Africa and asked, “Does that make me more African-American than a Black who was born in Detroit and never left town?” No one was able to answer that. I pointed out that, except for two British grandmothers my entire family is Italian and I was born in Rome. Yet, before people hear my name no one “marks” me for Italian. Is that because of my British genes, or because most Americans, not having been to Italy, have a very slanted idea of what “Italian” looks like? Or, could it be that, since Garibaldi unified Italy only in the 1850’s, the mix of various genetic contributions such as French, Spanish, German and Greek kind of muddied the water?

On one of my many visits to my home city an Italian man came up to me and, in English, volunteered to be my guide around the city. What am I? Who am I? And, why should I care?

I also pointed out in that Diversity meeting that, despite laws or regulations, people self-segregate. I saw that in the 1960’s military, in the 1970’s college cafeterias, and in the 1990’s government workplace social events. But on what basis does a person choose a group? Do they first look in the mirror? In one of my federal assignments I worked with a new woman who seemed “White”. Our team leader quietly informed me she was “Black”. My first thought was, Why do I need to know this? My second thought was, how did this woman come to this conclusion about herself? Of course, I met her in the office and had no knowledge of her history, family, or upbringing, much less her genes. To me, she was a human to work with; I expected her to do human things. The same team leader later told me that yet another new hire was lesbian. I refrained from a smart ass answer: I wasn’t planning on trying to have sex with her, so who the hell cares?

The mix of genetics and culture, somehow swept together under the term Ethnicity is a particularly kaleidoscopic one. The invocation of that term seems intended to cease further drilling. If so, this means any continued projections of future states or relative balances of ethnicity must be based on assumptions for which the baseline information has been artificially cut off. Mustn’t probe the wood pile too deeply. In the spirit of the opening quote, the light illuminating the way ahead can be allowed to come from only a certain approved distance. In fairness, though, the pathways from presumed origins can be re-traced just so far; one should not be required to identify family hand prints on a cave wall.

Larger social trends are often easier to project into the future. Although we have long heard the term “Culture War”, we do seem to be approaching it. (Okay, it’s really sub-culture vs. sub-culture but some people take umbrage at the term sub.) Regardless, the concern seems to be with the direction, speed, and degree of change. Basically, how and when will change affect my group’s status?

I’ve heard people express shock at what they perceive as the sudden appearance of ideas and actions, making it easy to pinpoint Trump as the origin and cause. But as early as the 1960’s I began to think the degree to which one is surprised by change is a measure of how one was not paying attention all along. Trump, albeit the rabble-rousing stooge eased into place by a Republican Party which “appeared” to lose Primary debates to him, is simply that: a front-man for power brokers who have been laying groundwork for decades.

I’m not talking about some Star Chamber cabal worthy of the Alex Jones Conspiracy Hour. I’m talking about the descendants of the Robber-Barons who fought the labor movement in the 1920’s, the “Godless communists” starting in the ’30’s, and the Liberals ever since. I’ve met several people who lived their lives furious at FDR for his New Deal, which they branded as Socialist Communism. These same people, and others of their type (I could identify only WASP – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant as “their type”) fought against Civil Rights; Immigration; a woman’s control over her reproductive functions; World peace – though most were never in any military; public education; public radio and television; “them damn environmentalists”; health and safety regulations; gay rights, and every other “Liberal, Commie, Pinko, Homo, Elitist, and Sinful Perversion”. These people are not distinguishable by any lack of indoor plumbing; some of them can even complete a sentence grammatically. No, these people are your next door neighbors, your co-workers, maybe even your physician.

Yet, no matter how clear the science on a number of environmental issues including climate change, how documented the history of Fascism, or how obvious the contradictions when they vote for an oligarchy which deeply harms them they vote into office one-issue demagogues while completely ignoring how the utter stupidity of their choice radiates out through the entire society. Thus, we got the Tea Party, the Freedom Caucus and the stupefied inertia which flowed from them. Yes, a large portion of the country became angry. But this portion was intellectually unable to understand, or morally unable to admit, they had brought Congressional inertia on themselves by handing government over to The Party of No. Solution? Enter the man who said, “Only I can fix it!”

I’m in the uncomfortable position of saying I was not entirely surprised at the 2016 election of a Fascist regime. Uncomfortable because I did not foresee the election of such an utterly incompetent Fascist regime. Both Mussolini and Hitler, compelling rabble-rousers, were ushered into power by entrenched figures who thought they could control them once in office. The same was likely true with Reagan, and now likely true with Trump. I expect that, as happened with an earlier figure in this Party, Trump will be brought down from within. Unfortunately, the orgy of environmental de-regulation and other catastrophic actions by Donald Little-Hands Trump will likely survive unnoticed in the collective relief at his removal.

That’s about as far into the future as I care to see. I’m busy working on the present.

Look to Heaven, Lány

Look to Heaven, Lány

by Marco M. Pardi

Note: In the Hungarian language lány is the affectionate term for daughter.

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Teilhard de Chardin

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

I was a couple of months short of 28 years old when my first and only child, a daughter, was born. By that time I had been some places, and seen some things. As I’ve written previously, around the time she was going on 3 years old I spent a few months taking her through eleven countries, most prominently the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, and Italy. In those areas she met some relatives for the first time. I have also written about our stop in Vienna where I forgot her doll on the Budapest bound train.

Before and during WWII my paternal uncle was Mussolini’s Cultural Ambassador to Hungary, living with his wife in the Italian Embassy in Budapest. My eldest cousin was born there when Soviet troops overran the Embassy, taking my uncle captive and beating him almost to death. My nine months pregnant aunt escaped out a window, fracturing her pelvis, and delivering on the floor of an Embassy car as they sped away. As the years passed I spent many hours with my uncle and his family in Roma or Positano but never asked him how he personally felt about Fascism, whether he was a believer or simply a covert survivor.

In the late 1940’s, after my little family unit and I escaped the ongoing internal conflict in Italy and got to the U.S. and my grandparents’ home I was left to peruse my grandfather’s large library for anything to help me learn English. As the time passed before going to boarding school (Fall 1948) I found books on the war. Most had pictures, with fairly simple captions beneath. The pictures, though, were not simple.

The armaments were very interesting, and forgettable. The reprinted captured German photographs of people were unforgettable. In their pride, they documented even their war crimes. There was one picture most Americans are familiar with: A German soldier, apparently too young to have a wife and child himself, was a few feet behind a young Jewish woman clutching her child to her breast and trying to escape. His rifle, a 7mm Mauser, was a couple of feet from her back. Having used that rifle myself, I expect the bullet passed through the mother and likely through the child. I wonder now if the Germans had a phrase for “Two-Fer”. Another picture was, to a parent, even more heart breaking. In a large pit outside Budapest a mass of Jewish women and children, all naked, stood surrounded by soldiers atop the edges of the pit. As some soldiers raised and aimed their rifles a woman in the front center of the picture held her young daughter in one arm and with the other pointed to the sky. The caption, though unverifiable, read: Arrow Cross (the predominant Hungarian Fascist party) soldiers jeer as a Jewish mother points the way to heaven.

Madeleine Albright has written a book I feel all Americans should read: Fascism: a warning. In it she describes the socio-economic conditions which gave rise to Mussolini, and eventually to Hitler. I’ve studied Mussolini for years, especially due to the effect he had on my family and my own life. Albright does a masterful job of accurately describing the conditions, Mussolini’s characteristics, and his actions. Though she does not initially hammer the point, she could as easily have been describing Trump, a fact I noticed from the onset of his campaign to win a select portion of American voters. In fact, I find myself wondering if I’ve been wrong about reincarnation all these years. Trump’s mannerisms and behaviors are Mussolini personified – except that Mussolini actually did some good things for Italy (He didn’t make the trains run on time, despite the myth). My acquaintances who are true believers in reincarnation might note: Mussolini was executed on April 28, 1945; Trump was born on June 14, 1946. Time enough to regroup and seize power in the most powerful nation on Earth? I’ll leave that to my true believer friends. But I will not leave other questions unanswered. In particular, Could it happen here? A couple of years ago the question would have been deemed absurd. But since then we have seen the markedly Fascist tactics of demonizing an entire religion (Islam); demonizing an entire ethnic group (Hispanics); rejecting science in all its forms; restructuring taxes to benefit the sycophantic Over Class; destroying public education in favor of thinly disguised Party Line training; and, declaring the Free Press to be the “enemies of the people”. Just yesterday the President forcefully told us to not believe what we see, referring to the mainstream media. Instead, we should get our information from FOX News, which I call the Voice of the Fourth Reich.

Still think it can’t happen here? Lots of other people thought that, too. Of course, they’re dead now.

Whatever label we put to political ideology, I cannot imagine a parent watching the past few months of coverage of the border crossing “Zero Tolerance” policy playing out daily. In all the crossings I did with my daughter I like to think that any border guard would have had to know how to split an atom because if anyone attempted to take my daughter from me I would have fought down to the last atom in my body. But the guards at our southern border used a tactic which should sound familiar: They told the parents their children were being taken “for a bath”. Sound familiar? Need I prompt with the word shower? No, they were not taken and gassed. And instead of cattle cars and trucks they were apparently loaded on airplanes for distribution throughout the United States, with absolutely NO tracking method to connect which child with which detained family member. How many infants and toddlers even know their familial last names? Recently a 1 year old was presented in an immigration hearing and expected to represent himself.

As of this writing 711 children are still separated from their families, many of which have already been deported back to their home countries without their children. There is no method for reuniting these children, now orphaned in a strange and hostile land. Is the confiscation of one’s children not cruel and unusual punishment for crossing a border, or do these concepts no longer apply to a population that has been demonized as “murderers, rapists, and drug dealers.” Of course, the Boogie Man du jour is MS-13, the violent gang. But no mention is made of the fact that MS-13 originated in the United States and, under the Reagan/Bush administrations fed members into the Death Squads of El Salvador where they are now out of work and roaming the streets.

Ah, but we are now being told many parents willingly surrendered their children before being deported, supposedly for a “better life”. As counter to this, I worked for two years on an IRB ensuring that Informed Consent forms were culturally and educationally appropriate to the people signing onto medical trials. I would dearly love to see/hear what these families were told as they were loaded onto transports without their children.

I’m not out, as some, to paint the entire Border Patrol and Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) as Fascist villains. Some years ago these agencies had need of some of my talents and flew me to locations on the border to put them to use. I met many fine individuals. But, don’t we all? How many times have we heard someone say, This isn’t my choice, I’m just doing my job? I wonder if the workers at the American slave ports said or felt the same as they split families and auctioned them as parcels of freight to the highest bidders. Just doing my job, just following orders didn’t exonerate people at Nuremberg. It shouldn’t do so at Laredo.

Message Fatigue

Message Fatigue

by Marco M. Pardi

I suppose it is good for the body. But the tired part of me is inside and out of reach.” Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), responding to a friend’s suggestion that he rest.

All comments are eagerly welcomed and will receive a response.

Yes, it’s me again. Message fatigue. I’m sure all of us are familiar with the concept if not the name. As young children we read about The Boy Who Cried Wolf. We learned about Chicken Little. And, in Greek classes we followed the sorrowful fate of Kassandra, who correctly predicted dire events but was never believed.

At some point in that childhood we got first hand understanding of message fatigue; we endured seemingly endless “Duck and Cover” drills while imagining Soviet bombers targeting our schools. Well, maybe they weren’t. No, definitely, not this time. Just another drill. Now, where were we?

Through the decades the messages have varied wildly but the industry producing them has only gained pace. The next Ice Age is coming – the planet is warming. Coffee gives you cancer and heart disease – coffee fights cancer and strengthens the heart. Margarine is healthier than butter – margarine is murder on your cholesterol. And on and on. Each reader is thinking of one I haven’t put here.

While reading or doing other things I often have cable news running in the background. CNN. I will not allow FOX News, the Voice of the 4th Reich, into my home. Throughout the day there are spots highlighting a problem and requesting money, often quite effectively, toward solving it. By afternoon I frequently find myself thinking, I don’t have enough money to spread everywhere I would like to. But that doesn’t stop the bombers from flying into my family room, dropping guilt on me with precision. Recently, however, a question occurred to me. As I was watching an ad soliciting money to operate on children with cleft palates I got the sense that all the ads for this I’ve seen, and there have been many over the decades, showed children in 3rd World countries. Okay, I get it that the operations are costly, and several of these countries do not have the facilities or personnel to perform the surgery even if the family somehow got the money. But, the impression left by the train of messages is that there is a disproportionate incidence of cleft palate in these countries. If that is so, why is that so? On the other hand, I understand that children born with this condition in the top tier countries are far more likely to receive surgery as soon as it is feasible. But let’s not overlook the fact that this surgery is “elective” and may even be deemed “cosmetic” by our uncaring and predatory insurance industry.

Speaking of children, a few days ago I did my daily visit to a close friend who is fighting two separate diseases, each lethal. A tough as nails former Air Force officer, lifetime NRA member and lifetime Republican, his first gasping, gulping words as I entered his room were, “This…is…just…tearing…me…up.”

No, he was not referring to the swollen abdomen from one condition or the liquid filled lungs from the other. He was referring to the television coverage of the little children being torn from their parents and locked in cages on the Southern Border. I had seen that coverage, especially the little girl sobbing her heart out. My only child, now a woman, had looked so much like that little girl I, a person some of you know as having a career background, was bent over in tears, even less able to speak than my friend.

The administration is all over the news, denying it is their fault while claiming the government is sanctioned and approved by God. The Attorney General, a person who should know the basics of American law, quotes Paul, the man who, never having met Jesus, nonetheless created Western “Christianity”. What the administration does not know, or admit to, is that the very same bible passage was used by the Loyalists to try to prevent the American Colonial Secession (it was not a “revolution”) from England and, later, to justify slavery.

So what is the message? This administration is ordained by God? American theocracy?

Every day I receive and sign dozens of petitions for a wide variety of issues. Where some petitions ask me to craft a message in my own words I do so. Yet, there are times when, faced with another in-box screen filled with such messages, I hear my inner voice telling me I’ve done enough for a while. My one petition or letter really makes no difference. The disgusting garbage that has seized the House, the Senate, the White House and every function of government (in my case, from federal to state to local levels) will not bother themselves to read my letters. But I feel I recognize that voice: it’s the voice of fatigue. It’s the voice that awakens on those rare occasions when I get a response which turns out to be another self-serving form letter purporting to be from the politician to whom I wrote and who likely never saw my letter.

Anyone who has read a substantial number of my posts, especially during and since the election cycle knows I have written often of the impending, and now de facto Fascist takeover of the United States. I was most certainly not alone in doing so. Some of the finest minds spoke out in various media to explain the nature of the threat. But, perhaps that was the problem. The more these people spoke out and the closer in tone their messages became the more they looked like a special class, an “elite”, to the average reader (I include “reader” generously because I think most Americans do not read past the headline) or viewer. So it became not a variety of messages from qualified people but a staccato repetition from what seemed to be a monolithic source, the “Clinton people”. (The name Clinton appeared far more often than the term Democrat throughout most of the race, an indication of how the contest was perceived)

The Russians, on the other hand, had mastered not only audience segmentation but also source segmentation, a relatively new phenomenon in mass communications. Indeed, the Democrats could have gone down the list of Republican Tea Party Conservatives one by one to show how they had obstructed meaningful progress but, careful to avoid anything too cerebral for the public, they remained married to the principle of message repetition. Of course, repetition, especially in America, quickly leads to fatigue. The Russians, on the other hand, launched a blizzard of different, short, and emotionally provocative false and misleading stories and “fake news” items – the real fake news Trump endlessly trumpets about. These stories and “news” items came at the public through a variety of popular media and, while crafted to appear distinct, were leading the public down the desired rabbit hole of post-fact – “They say, so it must be true”. Trump himself campaigned heavily with this technique, constantly saying “Many people tell me….folks are saying….” without ever having to produce the people or the folks.

The mantra “fake news” is not just the ravings of a demented man. It is laying the foundation for actions currently under study by the administration. The Federal Communications Commission issues and renews the broadcast licenses for media outlets. Trump himself has repeatedly threatened to cancel the license renewal of CNN, MSNBC, and NPR, outlets that have dared to expose and challenge the daily avalanche of lies coming from him and his administration. I have repeatedly written the FCC and the White House, citing my birth in Fascist Italy and informing them that centralized control of the media is a pillar of Fascism. I have the form letter responses to prove it.

Honestly, I have wondered how many people have turned away from my blog thinking it was just an endless rant. But self criticism is healthy, to a degree. And being somewhat negative pays dividends; few people are disappointed by not being disappointed. To paraphrase Bob Gates, a man for whom I developed great respect, “When CIA officers stop and smell the flowers, they look around for the hearse.”

I liken my braided careers then and now to watching a porpoise swim along the seashore, briefly visible above the surf only intermittently, and then gone. I continue to spend daily hours clicking away on this keyboard, sending petitions and writing letters. I care very deeply for what’s happening on shore, though there will come a time when I’ll never see it again.

Meaning

Meaning

by Marco M. Pardi

To translate meaning into life…..is to realize the TAO”

Carl G. Jung. (1875-1961)

I think one of the most challenging, and least prepared for aspects of retirement is finding meaning in everyday life. No one cares if I don’t show up for work. In fact, they would probably send me away. No one cares if I get up late….well, maybe my dog would register his dismay. So awakening is met with a question: What to do today? Perhaps, on a thoughtful day, that question will trigger another: Will it matter?

A few days ago Dana (you know Dana from her participation in these discussions, always brilliant, always eagerly anticipated) started a group email venture called A Positive Thought for the Day. As several people quickly joined in with contributions I watched for a while, giving myself time to form an impression. I was surprised by how positive my impression was, even if I can’t always come up with something positive.

But looking at today is hard to do without looking at yesterday. What were my yesterdays like, and were they positive, negative, or some mix of the two? Do they still affect my today? How often have you heard someone say, “When I was {working} at….or When I was {fill in a position no longer held}” and they went on about that every time you encountered them? You want to say, That’s gone. Get over it.

Yet there is an undeniable element of past achievements and lifelong devotion to a vocation which hovers over each retired day just as surely as old photographs and awards on the mantle piece. I have few photographs, for obvious reasons, but I have an endless supply of awards – in boxes.

My life has been dominated by Learning, Doing, and Teaching. In the two, and sometimes three simultaneous careers I had my Learning was partly for enjoyment and largely for better abilities at Doing. My Doing was often exhausting but usually it seemed worth it. My Teaching was partly for the joy of seeing the lights come on, partly to enable people to choose among alternatives, partly to enable them to avoid mistakes, and partly for the humans and non-humans who should one day benefit from people who learned something. But I firmly reject the I have the right answer and you don’t, so listen up approach in so much teaching. I always preferred the I found that learning was fun and I think you will too approach.

Most of that has changed now. Oh, I still learn continuously. I average a serious book per week and watch science programs. But I catch myself asking myself Why. I something meaningful if I don’t pass it on? Before now I failed to recognize how much of the joy I felt in learning was the anticipation of sharing that learning with someone else and seeing them light up with the joy of discovery. I have hoped that at least some of the posts I’ve put on this blog site were opportunities for someone to learn something and to enjoy thinking about it perhaps differently. Again, I don’t for a moment presume to have the answers, but I do hope to stimulate the questions. This is why the comments sections of these posts are so very important. I know what I say; without your comments I don’t know how you react.

Doing is a bit tougher to deal with. Frankly, I never gave much thought to what I would be doing in retirement. One of my careers is described as that from which one never retires. That may have influenced my habit of ignoring questions regarding post retirement activity. I don’t play golf, shuffleboard or other such games; my Doing left me a bit damaged for much physical activity of that kind. I can’t stand cards.

I recently gave almost all my SCUBA gear to my daughter though I could still do some snorkeling if I want to drive forever to get to a suitable beach. But I admit I don’t like the idea of kenneling my elderly dog. I want the time I have left with him and he is no longer a good traveler. And, after a lifetime of traveling it holds little appeal to me.

So all this makes me wonder sometimes what the still working people envision for their retirement years, and how they adjust when, as is so often the case, things just aren’t as they expected. During many of my travels I took the time to go into houses of worship dedicated to the Western God: churches, temples, mosques. I very much enjoy the architecture whereas American Protestant churches, with their converted warehouse appearance, are not aesthetically pleasing.

Invariably, the local lore was that one would find, especially in the churches, most of the old women of the area. I don’t know if I saw most but I did see many. I learned that it was common for these women to come every day and spend most of the day there. Why? What was meaningful to them? The easy answer, especially since so many of them were dressed in black, was they were praying for predeceased loved ones.

Easy answer. No doubt they were. But I suspect that, having found little to nothing meaningful in their everyday life they placed themselves in an environment in which it was easy to displace to another cognitive state. It was easy to “get away from here” even if the destination was only imaginary.

In an earlier post I mentioned a woman who came to me when she became eligible for federal retirement. Divorced, childless and alone, she was afraid to retire as she saw nothing before her. I told her to take some of her personal leave or sick days (she was sick of the job) and go to various groups that meet during the days. She was to interview them, not the other way around, because in effect she would be retaining some of them in performing a service for her: putting meaning in her retirement days. She did. She happily retired.

But notice something: “She”. I am curious to read comments from readers who have examined their local newspapers or whatever other social media they have to see if they, too, find that daytime groups are overwhelmingly female oriented. Okay, men historically have tended to drop dead not long after retirement. But, still. More of us men keep waking up each morning, albeit it with a WTF am I still doing here attitude.

Years ago I lived in Florida, known locally as “God’s waiting room”. In all my travels I’ve never seen so many liquor stores per square mile as in Florida. The city of St. Petersburg could have adopted a logo of an upright corpse on a park bench. Activity, in a climate which excitingly alternated between hot and humid and humid and hot, seemed geared toward tourists, not locals.

But other States, though they differ in climate and activities, are not much different from Florida when it comes to meaningful retirement years, especially for men. So it comes down to a principle I’ve tried to live by: Make your own meaning. And, if no one can figure out your meaning, well, too bad.

That’s all very nice, but it can sure be solitary. But please do not assume I’m writing this stuff with the hope someone will suggest a meaningful activity for me. I’ve had several days in which I’ve thought I should go back to work so I could get some rest. In the meantime, I’m keeping Dana’s suggestion front and center. For me, a positive thought, a good thought, is a meaningful thought. And, if nothing else, I’m glad to have the group with which I can share it.

Human Rights

Human Rights

by Marco M. Pardi

Human beings have a strong tendency towards rationality and decency. (If they had not, they would not desire to legitimize their prejudices and their passions.)

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963). The Olive Tree and Other Essays. 1936

All comments are encouraged and each will receive a response.

This is a tough one. I don’t remember a time in my adult life when I did not wonder at “Human rights”. According to whom? What are the criteria for a right?

This subject may be approached from several perspectives: philosophy; religion; jurisprudence; humanities, and etc. each having its own set of criteria yet unavoidably interfacing with all of the others. As with most if not all other things I choose to approach it first through Formal Logic. Thus, I reject propositions based on “you know” and “they say” as well as propositions based on presumptions that “everyone knows” and “it’s agreed”.

Granted in this case an attempt to fundamentally define terms, such as human, could quickly ensnare us in a morass with no other escape than acceptance of the unsavory “everyone knows” assertion. As far as I know there is no outside authority sitting on the sidelines telling us what we are. But examples pertinent to rights appear in unexpected but everyday settings. In the United States there are people who ascribe humanity to a zygote, certainly to a blastula. And, should the woman carrying this object engage in behavior which may harm it some States have laws, including feticide, intended to safeguard the rights of this object, now recognized as a person. Thus, does a positive pregnancy test this morning confer a right to this woman to commute to work in the carpool lane? After all, there supposedly are two people in the car.

Most of the fetus as a person with rights beliefs are based in religion. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not categorically against religion. I’m against what people do with religion. The Latin term itself is a portmanteau: re (to do again) ligare (to bind). We commonly see re-peat, re-member, etc., and we commonly use ligature, ligament, etc. The selection of the word religion is based on the idea that the developing infant is fully enveloped in the cosmos and, through maturing, gradually emerges as a separate, autonomous adult entity unbound and longing to be reunited with that early, innocent state. Religare (religion, re-binding) is proffered as an answer, or THE answer. Who can argue with wanting reunification with Allness? The problem arises when someone claims to know that innocent pre-autonomous state and to have the only way of getting there.

In more basic terms I recall a discussion in a graduate school class during which we reviewed various means of analyzing Primate behavior. During a discussion of Etic analysis, borrowed from linguistics, I reminded the group that humans are also Primates and questioned why we could not study humans in the same way as we study other primates.

Audible gasps. I pressed the point; what sets humans apart from other Primates when it comes to studying them? I was not advocating we apply some of the same biological testing, though I felt like it. Nor was I evening out the difficulties in cross species analysis. I was trying to elicit claims of inherent rights, and was ready to challenge proponents to defend those claims. What I got in response was seemingly based on common knowledge in the department that I had voluntarily served four years in a combat unit. One person cited the Geneva Conventions and the Rules of Engagement, as if there is anything gentile about trying to wound or kill each other (wound is better for several reasons). I was convicted of being jaded. I found this atmosphere quite distressing, not least because a strong current in Anthropology pushes us toward “objectivity” and cultural relativism.

Actually, my time in the military did shape my views in some ways. I formed a rather hazy cut-off point for personal culpability: a child soldier apparently below the age of 12 can perhaps be scared off instead of maimed or killed. I judge him/her as acting under the influence of older individuals. From 12 on up this person has made their own choices and will reap the consequences.

I apply this to other cultural practices. For example, most cultures that practice genital mutilation, either FGM (female genital mutilation) or circumcision, do so on children under 12. I consider those children to be victims. So I ask the question: What gives the mutilators the right to do what they are doing? Yet, many anthropologists would ask, What gives me the right to be critical? Personally, I would terminate someone, male or female, who imposed FGM on a little girl. But I’m that way about a lot of things. I suspect I would be told I don’t have the right.

The United States has enshrined a Bill of Rights. I think the listed rights are fine. But especially when discussions of “gun rights” arise I hear people talk about “God given rights”. Again, I’m not arguing with the focal point of the belief (whether there is or is not a God); I’m asking why I should accept as valid a human statement based upon an unproven act (the granting of the right to bear arms) by an unproven and indemonstrable entity (God) especially when that statement serves the purposes of the human speaker. I’m not saying the entity (God) does or does not exist; I’m questioning the acceptance of rules which are claimed to have emanated from this entity.

International relations are increasingly clouded with discussions and accusations about human rights and abuses. Having lived and/or traveled in many places, and having had intense conversations with many people it was not long before I came to feel that concepts of human rights (and therefore abuses of them) are often culture bound. Many people are appalled by the stereotypic American claim that bearing arms (firearms) is a God given right. And many are confused by the fierce claims of freedom coming from people who take pride in living in a “law and order” society which has one of the highest per capita rates of people under lock and key. The situation reminds me of the trite saying about the Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rule.

Formal Logic calls for precise identification of source, exact definition of terms, and calculation of the relative valence (power) of terms. It is more than three dimensional chess; it demands to know the authority by which each piece employed in the matrix is given its power. Again, since I cannot identify an authoritative outside source for the allocation of the relative (human) powers at play I must assume it is a human game constructed on a “you know” basis. It seems very close to the elementary violation we cite when we disqualify a word definition for using that same word in its own definition. We are, “Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps”. (I tried that for fun in the military. Didn’t work there, either.) So it seems to me that the fundamental premise is that a human right is a human right because powerful humans say it is. Am I wrong in feeling an atmosphere of Might Makes Right?

I do hope we get significant interaction on this. This site has many readers in many countries. Everyone is always welcome to freely comment. It is your Right.

Meant To Be

Meant To Be

by Marco M. Pardi

The great appeal of fatalism….is as a refuge

from the terror of responsibility.”

Arthur M. Schlesinger. “The Decline of

Greatness”

Comments are strongly encouraged and will each receive a response.

I’ve always viewed that phrase, meant to be, as a slightly more eloquent way of saying I dunno. It comes easily to mind as it has perhaps the broadest of potential applications from the cosmic to the mundane. It reminds me of the insipid response clerics often give to questions of doctrine: “It will all be revealed after you die.” Great. Looking forward to it.

In recent years we’ve heard much about the “Goldilocks Zone”, the place of the Earth in the solar system, not too hot and not too cold which allows life as we know it to exist on this watery rock. Predictably, there are those who tout this as proof of design, as if it were meant to be. First year logic students understand this thinking as regressive; citing supposed effect as proof of a presumed cause. Anyone even vaguely familiar with horse dentition knows of the large gap between the incisors and the 1st molars. Should we then conclude the gap was “designed” to, thousands of years in the future of horse evolution, accept the bit?

As is common among the design crowd, claimed effects are pre-loaded with anthropocentric bias and even Earth centered bias. The universe contains billions of solar systems. The probability of widely spread and numerous “Goldilocks zones” approaches certainty. Especially as we come to understand the long discredited and now accepted concept of panspermia we come to accept the probability that life elsewhere includes the development of human like forms among many others. In fact, our concepts of “life” have changed dramatically as our improving technology enables us to find it.

Chemosynthetic bacteria and Archaea thrive in the superheated water and crushing pressure around Earth’s hydrothermic vents. Hydrothermic vents are thought to exist on Jupiter’s moon, Europa and Saturn’s moon, Enceladus. A virtual blanket of bacteria lives happily in Earth’s ionosphere, in the highest and coldest reaches of Earth’s atmosphere. Archaea is now recognized as a third form of life: Animal Kingdom; Plant Kingdom; and Archaea Domain. The most common forms of microbial Archaea live happily in mud, eating free electrons. That’s right. They eat electricity. So as we increasingly come to know certain things we increasingly come to understand that what we don’t know is probably expanding at an even greater rate. And this is not even mentioning the weird quantum world. In perfect vacuums particles appear, zip around, and annihilate each other on contact. Where from? Where to? Something out of nothing? Design, causality, and “meant to be” retreat further into the embarrassing background of “Well, that’s what people used to think.”

But wait, there’s more! Most people are aware of the conclusion that the dinosaurs were wiped out by the aftereffects of an asteroid strike. What some seem to be missing is that, Goldilocks Zone or not, we are really not much closer to preventing a recurrence of an asteroid strike than the dinosaurs initially were. We do track N.E.O.s, Near Earth Objects, but we are limited in our ability to detect objects below a certain size. And, we would have little time to muster even an experimental response should one clearly have Earth in its sights. Scary, but at least we would likely have time to say our good-byes. Also up for consideration is the probability of a Supernova sending a blast of Earth sterilizing radiation at us so quickly we would not have time to say, But this was not meant to be. Stargazing on a peaceful night makes it difficult for some to understand that the universe is a chaotic and violent place. Fair Play is a local concept.

Well, I’m still sitting here typing this. Whether you and I will still be here and there by the time I post this is another matter. So let’s put our blinkers on and think about ourselves. I’m betting that most, if not all of us, have had some question answered with, “It was meant to be.” One is expected to respond with a weighed and considered “Yup. I guess so.” Sometimes the issue in question deserves little more than that. At other times, it is ominous. We Gilmour boys were expected to establish relationships with the Beaumont girls. All chaperoned and supervised, of course. Enrollment in either prep school signaled one’s worthiness financially, socially, intellectually, and – presumably, religiously. No need for background checks. They are so crass, after all. One lovely young lady with whom I paired up on our contrived social occasions, this one being an afternoon dance in the gymnasium, assured me quietly we were “Meant to be”. My first thought was, I’m too young to die. But that was just emotional. Almost as quickly my intellect kicked in and I wondered, Meant by whom? Or what?

In any event, we never did “be”, whatever that meant. My family moved out of state, taking me with them. And she, presumably, went on to graduate and take the Grand Tour, becoming familiarized to all things European. Well, most things European. But 60 years later I remember her. Why?

Especially during or after unpleasant relationships I’ve heard people say, That person was put in your life for a reason. I suppose comments like that are presumed to be consoling. But the acceptance of such a statement seems to me the height of hubris; another fully valid, autonomous, and vibrant human being was “put in my life for a reason”? Just who am I that people should be made to appear and disappear to serve some purpose for me? How utterly narcissist!

Yet, I can readily recount episodes in which, had a particular person or persons not been “in my life” at the time I am certain I would not be sitting here typing this now. Those would have been bad episodes. Or, had I extended my last military/government tour as I very nearly did I would not have met the woman I did and subsequently had the amazing daughter and grandchildren I now have. Those are the best episodes. My daughter has said she would have “found” me even had I married someone else. Was she “meant to be” my daughter?

So, looking back at a long life – as us old folks tend to do, I see patterns which cannot be denied; things did not just fall into place. In one case a very serious problem which I had no way to foresee was averted by the entry, weeks before the problem arose, of a person into my life whom I would likely never have chosen to associate with but did, for reasons which were unclear to me at the time. And patterns like that have appeared frequently in my life.

Maybe that pin ball machine model I envisioned for so long is not really appropriate. Or maybe I should study more closely how the ball interacts with the elements on the board. Maybe I should have paid more attention to fluid dynamics, or Chaos Theory. Maybe I should have been a Buddhist monk after all.

There have been many people in my life. And, the more I look at patterns the less able I am to say this one was good or this one was bad. They were. That’s all. And, the more I look at patterns the more I discover and realize what meaning I may have had in the lives of others. Yes, over the years several people have told me of the beneficial effects my presence in their life brought them. I always get very, very uncomfortable with that. I like to know good things came of it but I do not want to hear that directly from the person. I really don’t.

On the other hand, it would be nice to be able to provide that same information to all the people who have had meaning in my life. Not likely possible. Many have died and many would probably not remember me anyway.

All this pattern stuff, even in the midst of cosmic chaos (or maybe I see chaos because I’m not seeing the patterns), has drawn me to the conclusion that the universe – Allness in its timeless and shapeless reality – is conscious. I’m aware that an increasing number of scientists are also concluding this, but I’m not trying to join anyone. Decades ago I was enthralled with the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, particularly his work The Hymn of the Universe. It spoke to me of pantheism, a divine oneness out of which the emergence of a singular god would be illogical. In fact, to me that concept of a singular god never made any sense and still doesn’t. My very early question in response to the glib statement, It was meant to be, was, by whom? But once free of the whom we are open to the what, as captured in the Sanskrit phrase Tat Tvam Asi – That Thou Art. The phrase is used to direct one’s attention to Allness, to awaken the mind to patterns of relationship, to expose our “if only-s” as wisps, to portray Meaning without the knee jerk search for a reason, an agenda behind the meaning. Meant to be implies temporality, a then and a now. Meaning simply is. A sand mandala. Which can be blown away in an instant.